52 books in 52 weeks: How to Write a Mystery Without Plotting it to Death

I set myself the goal of reading and reviewing 52 writing guides over the year. Here is book 20.

I’m a plotter. When starting to write a book for the first time, I can plan for England. I love the planning process.

I’ve tried writing by the seat of my pants, but I often run out of steam by about chapter 6.

And so I was looking for something in between. Being a planner is great, but the novelty often wears off by the time I start to write and it also can take a very long time to finish writing a book.

How to Write a Mystery Without Plotting it to Death by Jill-Ayn Martin therefore piqued my interest. And in it she describes the “tweenie”, the person who does a little of both.

This is a very short read so appealed to my very tight time-management at the moment. It took me just half an hour to read it. But I’ll be going back to it again, almost immediately in fact, complete with notebook by my side.

You see, anyone who suggests using a notebook instantly attracts my appreciation as I love notebooks. And the first thing the author suggests is one I wish I’d thought of myself: write notes as you read the book by all means, but if an idea suddenly jumps into your head, write that down too. Just write in a different coloured ink so it stands out.

The book goes very logically from the basics through getting to know your character, deciding on your setting and then culminating in fast writing. Then she guides you through just three editing processes before your book is ready to either do the rounds or land on a self-publishing platform.

There are hints and tips about keeping on top of a series, especially useful if you write more than one series. And there’s a very good chapter on mind-mapping – something that has never really appealed to me before but now it does as the author tells you how to make this exercise work for the project in hand. Or even the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

There are a very few errors or typos in the book, but because the author points out how easy it is to miss mistakes and asks for your forgiveness, it kind of makes it okay. Especially when she promises to forgive any errors in your book too. But I do wonder if she actually left them in on purpose to illustrate the point.

Only currently available on Kindle, I loved this book. There are no exercises, but Martin does give the reader plenty of work to do as you read along.

Before you start your next mystery thriller, read this book first. It’s short enough to not take too much time, and cheap enough if you choose not to follow any of the advice. Either way, it’s still a quick and lighthearted read.

How to Write a Mystery Without Plotting it to Death by Jill-Ayn Martin is available in the UK for £2.10 and in the US for $2.74.

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